- The Nueces River: Río Escondido by Margie Crisp
This is a beautiful biography of a river told in a way that matches the myriad meanders of an important stream through nature and history. It begins at the river's remote birthplace in the spring-fed canyons of the Edwards Plateau amid a landscape of burned-rock middens and conservation dams. As the water courses its way to the Gulf of Mexico, it becomes, as John Steinbeck wrote of California's Carmel, everything a river should be. Along the way, Margie Crisp offers various personal perspectives from alongside, within, on top of, and high above the river, carefully and respectfully conveying to the reader the evolving sense of place that marks the Nueces and the land it crosses. Interspersing her observations with literary and archival accounts as well as contemporary interviews, the author introduces the reader to a wide range of interesting people evocative of Frederick Jackson Turner's parade of the passing West. There are the explorers, padres, pioneers, and agriculturalists, as one might expect, but there are also teachers, naturalists, trappers, would-be developers, eagle killers, a chopper pilot, a county commissioner, and even two U.S. presidents. As a means of weaving a tapestry of Texas history—both natural and cultural—the Nueces is indeed everything a river should be.
The prose of Margie Crisp is enlightening, accessible, and literary. "[A] live oak leans toward the river," she writes, "as if peering over the ledge to see its own image." Then, carefully introducing layers to that evocative scene, she adds, "The world smells like springwater, ferns, black soil, and sunbaked stone" (12). This is an experiential travelogue told by an adventurer and admirer who writes with profound reverence and awe. Those who have long appreciated good nature writing will sense strains of Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Aldo Leopold in the prose. It is language that befits the dignity of a Texas river steeped in history.
The intricate artwork of William B. Montgomery, whose riverine scenes are reminiscent of the timeless Texas wildlife illustrations of Orville Rice and others from the past, complements the flow of the text and the stream with perfection. While each of Montgomery's paintings draws the reader's [End Page 331] attention and enhances the storyline, the following works are particularly noteworthy: "Tropical Perulas on Hackberry Creek" (19); "River Sentinel" (66); and "Green Jays in Anaqua Tree" (150). Additional dimensions to the visual part of the story can be found in the excellent photos as well.
In the concluding paragraphs of the book, the author writes of a braided stream that steadily and purposefully becomes a memorable river over time and distance. It is a fitting analogy for what Crisp and Montgomery have produced in this outstanding book. Together, they take readers on a journey that few, if any, will ever complete. They bring together rich elements of history and nature to provide an unmistakable sense of place that can be enjoyed time and again. Even high-speed river crossings via highways will never be the same as a result.